HP, Sun, Lucent, others team on mobile payments

A consortium of companies, including technology heavyweights such as Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Oracle Corp., have teamed to create standards for the way transactions originating on mobile devices are handled, a move that the companies hope will remove some barriers to widespread mobile commerce.

The consortium, called PayCircle, also boasts Lucent Technologies Inc. and Siemens AG as full members and a host of smaller companies as participants. The effort was made public in a statement issued Wednesday.

The payment, transactions and authorization component of mobile commerce is currently being held back because there are no standards and many different systems that do not necessarily work together, according to Malcolm Lewis, director of mobile offer management at Lucent. PayCircle will attempt to correct that problem by creating standard interfaces by which payment systems, wireless networks and vendors will be able to communicate, he said.

Beyond simply focusing on back-end issues, however, the group will also concern itself with developing a consistent user interface for transactions, said Craig Miller, product line manager in the wireless business group at Sun. A number of mobile phones use Sun's Java technology for their on-board software.

A standard interface is necessary because "ease of use and commonality of experience is key to driving adoption of new technology," he said. Having standards and a standards body will help jump start the mobile commerce market, he said.

To do this, the group will release a series of APIs (application program interfaces) for vendors to incorporate into their products to achieve this integration, Lucent's Lewis said. PayCircle is "trying to implement those APIs in as many environments as we can," including Java and XML (extensible markup language), Lewis said.

The first API is only just being finished, but Lewis expects to see PayCircle's work show up in software in a few months.

Sun's Miller, however, isn't so sure.

"I can't even begin to answer that question (when products will use the APIs), frankly," he said, adding that it was "way too premature" to speculate on that.

Each full member of the group has its own focus in the area of mobile commerce, he said. Lucent brings experience in billing systems to the group, while Oracle offers experience with the databases that will likely run many transaction systems, Siemens sells payment gateways, and both HP and Sun sell the platforms and software that may help power networks and vendors.

Though there are no major mobile phone handset makers yet in the consortium, Sun's Miller said that the group is encouraging new companies to join the consortium and that new members would be announced soon.

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